Book Reviews 1995





The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge, by K. Paul Johnson; State University of New York Press, Albany, 1994; paper, xxii+288 pages.

Fortunately the word myth has come to have a dual meaning, one of which has restored the concept to its rightful place among philosophical ideas, while the other meaning confines it to the popular tradition of "tall stories" or fanciful imaginings. As James Cowan, a contemporary interpreter of the Aboriginal legends of Australia, has put the matter, "Myth is the supreme metaphysical language." Or, as Jocelyn Godwin states in his excellent foreword to the book under review, myth "embodies lost knowledge and higher truths than mere stories."

These statements help us identify the meaning of myth as K. Paul Johnson uses the term in the subtitle of his latest effort to identify the teachers of H. P. Blavatsky; the correspondents of A. P. Sinnett, A. O. Hume, and several other early Theosophists; as well as those spiritually developed individuals referred to in theosophical literature as mahatmas, adepts, or masters. Let us acknowledge at the outset that Johnson is a tireless and careful researcher, that he has opened up, to quote Godwin again, "an entirely new dimension… to the history of Western esotericism at its most complex moment:' and that he has presented to the reader willing to set aside personal bias and prejudgment on the central question of Blavatsky's "teachers" a reasoned and well-documented case for identifying their personae.

Having said that, however, we need to examine the work more closely in order to understand both Johnson's aim and the criteria he used for achieving his purpose. He has not sought to deny the fact that spiritually wise men and women exist, individuals who may be called masters or mahatmas. As Johnson says in his introduction: "To call the occultist view of the Masters a myth is not to deny its value or validity." Rather he proposes that "the Masters were real people whose portrayal has been inflated by myth."

Johnson states unequivocally that he has defined the term "master" on the basis of" objective, measurable factors" and that "because their 'spiritual status' and psychic powers are inaccessible to historical research, these alleged criteria ... arc treated with agnosticism." Fair enough, since the individuals whose biographies he presents were "authorities in one or more spiritual traditions." The question still remains: does being such an authority constitute one a "master”? Perhaps it is that question which haunts the reader throughout this work.

The book itself, following the foreword by Godwin and a very useful introduction by Johnson, is divided into three parts, each consisting of a number of short chapters. Part one, titled "Adepts," consists of biographical sketches of some eighteen individuals, for the most part Westerners by birth, all of whom touched HPB's life in one way or another. Why the term "adept" is used for so widely divergent a group of individuals is not made clear. But here they are, a strange assemblage beginning with Prince Pavel Dolgorukii, HPB’s maternal great-grandfather, whose library, "containing hundreds of books on alchemy, magic and other occult sciences," Johnson proposes "were the most important influence on HPB's conception of the Masters."

Others on Johnson' s list are Albert Rawson. Paolos Metamon, Agardi Metrovitch, Giuseppe Mazzini , Sayyid Jamal ad-Din, Lydia Pashkov, Ooton Liatto, Sir Richard Burton, Dr. James Peebles (questionably entitled to the "Mahatmic status" Johnson suggests for him,) Charles Sotheran (among the original founders of the Theosophical Society,) and Mikhail Katkov ("the dominant figure in Russian journalism when he published HPB's Caves and Jungles of Hindustan in the Moscow Chronicle.”)

Was Rawson indeed the inspirer of HPB' s "confession," in which she wrote, " I loved one man deeply, but still more I loved occult science"? Was Paolos Metamon HPB's "first occult teacher in Egypt" so making him "the most likely original for the Master Serapis"? Was Metrovitch, whose relationship with HPB "is one of the great unsolved mysteries of Theosophical history," H. S. Olcott’s "first initiate teacher"? To what extent did Mazzini's views contribute to HPB’s "vision of the Theosophical movement’s mission?” Was Liatto really the "elusive" master HPB called "Hilarion"? Politics, Masonry, secret societies, Sufism: all figure prominently as interweaving elements in the lives of these "adepts."

Part two of the book is devoted to the biographies of some fourteen additional people whose lives touched Blavatsky's. Johnson calls this section "Mahatmas," although without explanation as to what differentiates them from the "adepts" of the previous section. This group, beginning with the strange story of Swami Dayananda Sarasvati and his Arya Sarna, with which the fledgling Theosophical Society was briefly associated, is composed of Indians, a Sinhalese high priest of Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhist lamas.

Perhaps most relevant for theosophical students are the biographical sketches of Ranbir Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir, whom Johnson proposes as the most likely candidate for the role of "Master Morya"; Sirdar Thakar Singh Sandhanwalla, founder of the Singh Sabha and Johnson's choice for the "Master Koot Hoomi"; Baba Khem Singh Bedi, the hereditary Sikh guru who qualifies as "The Chohan"; and Sirdar Dayal Singh Majithia, a Punjabi Sikh philanthropist who appears as "Master Dju al Kul." With the addition of these individuals to Johnson's list of "adepts," the story becomes complicated indeed, culminating in pan three, which he has titled "Secret Messages."

Johnson's final chapter ('''The Occult Imprisonment") quite rightly refers to the "fragmentary and labyrinthine nature of the evidence." He is clearly an avid historian, out neither to deny the validity of the concept of mahatmas nor to cast doubt on the spiritual motivation and occult prowess of H. P. Blavatsky. His effort has been to prove what the masters themselves repeatedly said in their letters: they are "men not gods." They are "adepts only when acting as such," as they wrote to A. P. Sinnett.

As for HPB, who brought the idea of mahatmas to the Western world, Johnson is generous in praise: "There is no reason to doubt," he writes in the final chapter, "that from first to last she saw the TS primarily as an agent of spiritual values, and allied herself with whatever political and social forces seemed useful to that purpose at the time."

Some Theosophists may not be happy with Johnson' s conclusion that "HPB's adept sponsors were a succession of human mentors rather than a cosmic hierarchy of supermen." But sincere students cannot help but agree with him and with his further statement: "In one sense, these hidden sponsors were indeed her masters. But in another sense, she may have been greater than any of them. While her portrayal of the masters was often historically inaccurate, the spiritual treasures she gathered and transmitted entitle her to recognition as a Great Soul in her own right."

At the end, many questions remain. Did all this varied assemblage of people from East and West really influence HPB' s thought and particularly her concept of adeptship or mahatmahood? In quite another context, James Santucci, in the October 1994 issue of the journal Theosophical History, quotes the Baha'i historian Robert Stockman on the question of historical influences on an individual or a movement. Stockman, responding to another of Johnson's historical researches, states: "Proving the existence of influence of one person or movement on another is a complicated scholarly task unless the influenced part acknowledges it. It is not adequate simply to show that one person met someone else or encountered another movement to prove an influence." As Santucci rightly points out, Stockman's statement "strikes at the heart of historical methodology," adding further, "This cautionary statement is especially true in theosophical and esoteric studies."

And there is the further question: is this all there is to adeptship or being a mahatma? However skeptical or agnostic one may be, is it possible to establish purely "objective" criteria for judging spiritual wisdom, occult know ledge, and esoteric authority? What weight should be given to HPB's own definition of a mahatma (Collected Writings 6: 239-41,"Mahatmas and Chelas"): "A Mahatma is a personage who, by special training and education, has evolved those higher faculties and has attained that spiritual knowledge, which ordinary humanity will acquire after passing through numberless series of reincarnations during the process of cosmic evolution.... The real Mahatma is then not his physical body but that higher Manas which is inseparably linked to the Auna and its vehicle (the 6th principle )." Is that state of consciousness a "measurable factor"?

Therefore, has Johnson really "revealed" the masters? Many will cling to the "myth" of god-like, omniscient beings, but HPB' s "teachers" never claimed to be of that genre, nor did she really claim it for them. Others will rejoice that Johnson has "unmasked" the masters, revealing them for what they themselves, in their correspondence with A. P. Sinnett and others, said they were: mortal men with access to and familiarity with occult knowledge. And a "brotherhood" of such individuals? Why not, when we all recognize our affinity with people of like mind, similar interests and objectives, however geographically separated we may be throughout the world?

So while this reviewer applauds Johnson’s work, for he has done his homework well, many questions still remain to be answered. If he has given us a "parade of heroes and eccentrics who wanted to change the world," not all of whom can be said to qualify as "masters," at least he has, as Godwin puts it in his foreword, presented us with "that most delightful of mysteries-an esoteric whodunit." And we could not agree more with Godwin's admonition: "All Theosophists ... should pluck up the courage to read this book." For whether read as a "whodunit" or as fact, it is a remarkable piece of research in a hitherto unexplored field of study.
-JOY MILLS

Spring 1995


Mysticism: Its History and Challenge by Bruno Borchert; Samuel Weiser, lnc., York Beach, Maine, 1994; paper, 456 pages.

This is a fine new book on mysticism, written by Bruno Borchert, a member of the Carmelite Order and senior researcher on art and mysticism at the Titus Brandsma Instituut in Holland. Borchert discusses the nature and history of mystical experience and considers its relevance in our scientific and rational age.

He states at the outset that the phenomenon of mysticism "seems to occur in all religions and cultures; it is different in external form, but in essence everywhere it is the same: it is the experimental knowledge that, in one way or another, everything is interconnected, that all Things have a single source" (his italics)

That realization is the underlying idea of this journal and of the Theosophical Society from which this journal has sprung.

One may arrive intellectually at the concept, but the mystic experiences the realization. It typically happens in moments of insight and can be quite overwhelming as experience. Often the mystic has a compulsion to try to describe the experience, but encounters great difficulty in doing so. Many mystics find the experience so overwhelming that they thereafter fall into silence, feeling they cannot possibly communicate what they have experienced.

In the first part of the book Borchert describes the phenomenon of mysticism. He writes:

Mysticism involves not only an experience of short duration which always has the same characteristics, but also a person who is trying to assimilate this experience into his or her life. What is more, mystics include both the stolid and the emotional types, both the balanced and the unstable, the physically strong and the frail. Also, a balance between two worlds is involved, especially in Western mysticism: one that is flawless, complete, gladdening, and seen in one lucid moment, and another that has to be coped with daily, full of violence, evil, problems and opposition. Between these two worlds the borders are fairly blurred: the borders between daydream and hard reality, between fantastic imagery and true vision, between spiritual and physical impressions (47-48).

Borchert speaks of the need at times to daydream in a problem-free environment, to muse in quiet surroundings, to read light fiction or the latest gossip column. Drugs, dancing, and music are all ways in which people seek respite from the difficult pressures of life.

The striving for ecstatic experience carries risks, Borchert points out, because the border between the dreamworld and reality may disappeal; there is the risk of madness and indeed history is filled with individuals who seem to have passed over the line from ecstasy to madness.

The second and much longer section of the book provides an overview of the history of mysticism, from its apparent origin in shamanism through India, Iran, Israel, Egypt, and Hellenistic and medieval times.

In the final section of his book, Borchelt considers the modern mysticism he sees growing from the challenges of scientific, rational, and technical Western culture. He refers to the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin, David Bohm, Fritjof Capra, Marilyn Ferguson, and others.

He speaks 011 behalf of a kind of democratization of mysticism for our times. In the final analysis, referring to J. Krishnamurti, he notes that while there are many books and many methods and techniques to offer guidance on the mystical path, nevertheless each of us must choose our own way. "Each case has its own direction, limitations, and possibilities," he declares. "The mystical process has an internal compass, which can be consulted once the way itself is clearly seen, and [which] can help you find your bearings in the maze of life" (364).

Along the way, Borchert's book can serve as a helpful guide to understanding the mystic path and its possibilities and pitfalls.
-WILLIAM METZGER

Spring 1995


Spiritual Politics by Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson; Ballantine, New York, 1993; paper, 478pages.

Many of those fascinated by the title of this book will have read other books with catchy titles and been disillusioned. Most, however, will feel that their time has been well spent with McLaughlin and Davidson, because Spiritual Politics clarifies why a mystic's spiritual pilgrimage should include a lifetime of appropriate ventures into political activism.

The reviewer is a world federalist and libertarian, and does not share the theological or political perspective of the authors. Davidson and McLaughlin, however, explain clearly why purifying one's intent through prayer and meditation is essential for healing our political process. They do not expect readers to share their political and theological views, but encourage us to adapt our own theology and politics in a prayerful blending of politics and spirituality.

Too many writers about political activism fail to appreciate that results achieved are dependent primarily upon methods used, And too few writers about meditation techniques also promote political activism.

The authors refer often to their own spiritual pilgrimage. Both were JFK enthusiasts in the sixties and now praise President Clinton. McLaughlin and Davidson met at Findhorn and later started a similar community in Massachusetts known as Sirius. They wrote Nan earlier book on intentional communities called Builders of the New Dawn. Earlier, Davidson had been a Peace Corps volunteer in India. Total assets invested with some type of social sensitivity grew from $40 billion in 1984 to $700 billion in 1992, partly because of his work as head of the Social Investment Forum. He also participated in activities at the United Nations as a representative of World Goodwill. McLaughlin has taught at American University and lectured on political psychology. In recent years they have been in Washington, D.C., with Sirius Educational Resources.

+ So long as the political establishment encourages constituents to imagine themselves as powerless "to fight city hall," an abundance of political apathy is assured. Although organized religion has a reputation for glorifying the status quo, millions of individuals who cherish spiritual values have had faith that "we no longer have to be victims of powerful political forces we don't fully understand or control. What we do, and what we think, affects every other living being in the web of life" (28).

Those who have greater wealth, education, and freedom have responsibilities for solving problems that affect humanity, such as starvation. "People facing starvation today are not likely to worry about the effects of climate change tomorrow" (56).

As McLaughlin and Davidson note, "what is encouraged by the Ageless Wisdom tradition is to first purify our motives for wanting to help, and then to align our personal will with God's will, asking for the highest good to come from our efforts, realizing we may not consciously know the deeper lessons and karmic purposes being played out in a given situation" (393).

To heal the world, they contend, we must develop right relationships. "The principles of unity, cooperation, and serving the common good can be our guideposts along the high road of planetary wholeness.... As more and more individuals around the planet awaken the fire within their hearts, the positive, loving energy field around the planet is strengthened and together we build a new world" (421).
-JOHN R. EWBANK

Spring 1995


The imagination of Pentecost: Rudolf Steiner and Contemporary Spirituality by Richard Leviton; Anthroposophical Press, Hudson, N. Y, 1994; paper, 464 pages.

Channeling, the purported bringing forth of messages from beings on the "other side," has become a key aspect of the metaphysical revival of the past decade. Methods of channeling vary, ranging from a person going into a trance and letting another being speak through the person's vocal cords, to just writing down what one hears on the "inner," But how are we to evaluate channelers, the "entities" being channeled, and the information which comes forth?

Richard Leviton, in The Imagination of Pentecost, suggests that one way to evaluate channeling is to consider the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, An early member of the Theosophical Society, Steiner later founded the Anthroposophical Society and is perhaps best known for his educational ideas and for having introduced Waldorf education into the world. Besides being well-versed in Theosophy and Western philosophy, Steiner also claimed to be clairvoyant. He broke from the Theosophical Society when Annie Besant began speaking of a new world teacher and when Steiner's own clairvoyant insights seemed to contradict certain Theosophical concepts. His own ideas were also solidly rooted in the Christian mythos more than in the Eastern tradition on which Theosophy draws.

Leviton gives an overview of Steiner's rather complex ideas, including his evolutionary view of history. In the planet's early his history, Steiner said, humanity bad easy access to the higher dimensions, but individual humans had no egos of their own. As time went on, they began to develop egos, but the price was that they became increasingly materialistic and lost access to the higher dimensions. According to Steiner, this decline had reached its lowest point at the time Christ incarnated on earth in Jesus of Nazareth,

The development of ego was actually a necessary step in human evolution, according to Steiner, but the time had come to bring spirituality back to the planet. By shedding his blood in the crucifixion, Jesus forever established an etheric link between Earth and the spiritual worlds (blood, Steiner said, contains etheric energy). From then on, humanity as a whole has been able to access the spiritual worlds but, unlike ancient times, humans also now have individual wills, In Steiner's view, evolution has taken an upward turn and humanity will therefore become increasingly spiritual.

Steiner also said that Christ returned earlier in this century, but not in a physical body, Christ "came down" to the etheric level of the Earth, where all will eventually be able to see Him after developing spiritual perception.

What does all this have to do with channeling? Steiner frowned on channelers (or mediums, as they were called at the time), who go into a trance and are totally unaware of the messages they bring forth. He said that this is a throwback to earlier times in history when humans did not have individuality. In our age, we must consciously access the spiritual worlds and consciously develop our spiritual abilities. In fact, Steiner said that in the future we will all be able to speak as the Logos, just as the apostles were able to do at Pentecost.

Leviton points out that Steiner would have considered the current fascination with Unconscious channelers who bring forth messages from astral beings a dangerous trend. In fact, Steiner believed that there are two spiritual beings, Lucifer and Ahriman, who try to mislead humanity (even though they, too, are ultimately part of the Divine Plan). Leviton describes these beings in great detail and offers his own ideas about their work.

Leviton has embarked on a monumental task in attempting to show how Steiner's ideas apply in our time. While largely successful, he often presents Steiner's ideas with an excessively reverent attitude. Steiner's warnings against unconscious channeling were hardly new, having been expressed in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions and by H. P. Blavatsky and other early Theosophists as well.

Perhaps what is most troublesome about this book is the fact that although Leviton reiterates Steiner's emphasis on conscious spiritual development, readers are given no idea how to go about developing their own spiritual potential. It is left unclear whether Steiner gave any spiritual exercises for people to do. If he did, Leviton should have included at least some preliminary exercises. In the introduction, Leviton tells of his own spiritual awakening, but it was apparently not achieved through Steiner's techniques.

The Buddha told his followers to test all his words for themselves, and gave techniques for doing so. Without a means of verifying another person's clairvoyant or spiritual revelations for oneself, a person is left with little reason to value those revelations over any other. Without a means for the reader to verify the material, it matters little whether the channeler is conscious or unconscious.

Despite these flaws, Leviton has, on the whole, done a great service in bringing Steiner's ideas into the modern age, In many ways, this book acts as a kind of "Cliff's Notes" for Anthroposophy. Whether one agrees with Leviton or not (and many, including Theosophists, will find points to disagree with), he does stimulate thought and offers an intelligent and spiritually perceptive look at many metaphysical teachings. In a time when books with watered-down, simplistic metaphysics abound, this is an important contribution.
-KEVIN KORODY

Spring 1995


Wise Women of the Dreamtime: Aboriginal Tales of the Ancestral Powers, collected by K. Langloh Parker, edited with commentary by Johanna Lambert; Inner Traditions International, Rochester, Vt., 1994; paper.

Australian aboriginal culture is thought to have existed in its present form for 150,000 years. These stories may be the oldest in the world. At once touching and potent, they were collected and scrupulously retold around the turn of this century by K. Langloh Parker, one of those amazing Victorian women who broke all the rules and fought her way our of the prejudices of her time to an appreciation of an alien, yet wiser, culture.

Johanna Lambert's commentary is subtle, lucid, and jargon-free, placing these deceptively simple tales within the larger context of the world's great wisdom literature.

This selection concentrates upon the manifold aspects of the Cosmic Feminine. It stands as an antidote against the chronic patriarchal hubris that has brought our planet to its present pitch, but is also effective against that shrill and strident feminism that is no more than patriarchy's equally unenlightened obverse. This is an inspired and unremittingly fascinating book, and beautifully produced and illustrated, too.
-JOHN ANTHONY WEST

Spring 1995


Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution by Ken Wilber; Shambhala Publications/Random House, New York, 1994; hardcover, 816 pages.

A long time ago, human beings lived in perfect harmony with nature and each other. We were not alienated. We did not abuse the planet. No one dominated anyone. We lay down with lion and lamb and every thing was bliss. Then something happened. Call it original sin. In any case, the honeymoon was over. The primal split, the ancient rift, the great gulf between ourselves and the cosmos opened and we were unceremoniously kicked out of the garden. Since then everything has been a mess.

In one version or another, this is a standard new age criticism of the modem epoch. It is also a feminist indictment of patriarchal oppression, an environmentalist assessment of the root of our ecological crisis, or any combination of the above. Ken Wilber's massive new work is an unrelenting attack on this simplistic fairy tale and an incisive analysis of its influence on contemporary social, cultural, and spiritual thought. Wilber has thought long and hard about the state of spirituality, and has concluded that many of its cherished icons and deeply held beliefs are not quite what they seem. His reasons are spelled out in exhaustive detail in the book's densely packed pages, a good 250 of which make up notes to the text.

Wilber is at pains to make clear why he finds the stereotypic anti-modern, anti-masculine, anti-progress critiques unsatisfying, bending over backwards to qualify his reservations with strings of parenthetical remarks. Yet if there is one definite statement to make about this exciting, frustrating, and challenging work, it is this: he will not make many friends with it, a sure sign he is onto something significant.

Wilber's basic theme is that our late twentieth -century intellectual and spiritual milieu is dominated by what he calls a "Descender” worldview, essentially a vision of life that denies the transcendent dimension and that sees the whole of reality in the physical world of the senses. Here we find strange bedfellows. Postmodernists, deconstructionists, reductionists, scientists, feminists, masculinists, "eco-fascists," devotees of the "new physics," and systems theorists all carve out different portions of what Wilber calls the "flat-land cosmology" of the Descender universe. An opposite, though less prevalent. camp is made up of the "Ascenders:” adherents of world- rejection. These include Gnostics, Cathars, Manichaeans, some Platonists, pessimists, like Schopenhauer, Theravadin Buddhists, archetypal psychologists, and an assortment of various "higher self" aficionados.

Both groups are guilty of a tragic partiality. in Wilber 's view, Descenders err by sinking into the physical cosmos in hopes of reaching a false totality: Ascenders by rejecting the physical plane in pursuit of "other worlds:” Both, Wilber argues, are halves of a fractured worldview that bridges the gulf between world-affirmation and world-rejection. He finds a uniting worldview for this split in Plotinus and Friedrich Schelling in the West, in Sri Aurobindo and Nagarjuna in the East. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality traces the sources and analyzes the effects of this debilitating bifurcation across the vast canvas of human history. Understandably, Wilber pays particular attention to the postmodern era, a time when the two opposing camps have at least a chance of coming together-or, equally likely, of recoiling even further apart in a schizoid polarization of the human spirit.

Wilber 's scope is ambitious, nothing less than from the Big Bang to the present era, and he is equally at home with new age gurus or postmodern pundits. The backbone of the work is the idea of "the holon,” a coinage made by Arthur Koestler in his 1967 classic The Ghost in the Machine. Wilber adopts Koestler's concept of "whole/parts" as the basic structural components of reality. Drawing from the work of philosophers Jurgen Habermas, Jean Gebser, and Michel Foucault, as well as the psychologist Jean Piaget, he embarks on a less-than-straightforward narrative of the evolution of the cosmos, life, mind, and civilization. That evolution, according to Wilber, has suffered from the Ascender /Descender split for a good 2,300 years. Wilber concentrates on unraveling the psychological and ontological knots these opposite outlooks have tied in our understanding of ourselves and the universe. In an era of postmodern free-for-alls and deconstructive double-think. Wilber has his work cut out for him. So do his readers.

What Wilber finds lacking in today's worldview is the notion of hierarchy, the Great Chain of Being that for centuries was the accepted vision of "the way things were." Nowadays, hierarchy is a bad word, smacking, for the politically and cosmologically correct, of dominance, oppression, and male superiority. Yet, as Wilber makes amply clear, the various critics of hierarchy confuse its abuse with its genuine character. Their "heterarchic" alternatives share a common flaw: by emphasizing the equal significance of all perspectives, they wind up affirming that anyone perspective is as good as any other, a stance that lands them in a mire of relativism. Confusing "pathological dominator hierarchies," which should be opposed, with authentic levels of Being, the various opponents of the Great Chain-whether deconstructionists, radical feminists, animal rights activists, or cultural relativists---end up with a flatland cosmology that, Wilber contends, confuses broader, though more superficial, "span" with deeper "depth."

The various "holistic" cosmologies and systems theory approaches 10 the environment gel short shrift from Wilber. Although they have indeed "shown that everything is connected to everything else," what they fail to include in their" interlocking systems" is the transpersonal dimension, the realm of value. This cannot be accounted for in holistic cosmologies that base their gauge of significance on size rather than depth. Most of these theorists are of the "bigger is better" school, Wilber argues. They ignore the obvious architectonics of the cosmos: galaxies are unimaginably large entities, enjoying an immense span, yet they are relatively simple. The human brain is a rather small object, cosmically speaking, yet it is infinitely more complex than a galaxy. And as far as we know, it houses perhaps the deepest thing in existence, the mind.

Holistic thinkers err in claiming that because it is more fundamental, the biosphere-the realm of organic life- is more significant than the noosphere- the realm of mind. For Wilber the precise opposite is true. If "the ultimate character pervading the universe is a drive toward the endless production of new syntheses," he tells us, then the holists have their priorities wrong . The noosphere isn't in the biosphere; the biosphere is in the noosphere-embraced, transcended, yet retained. Yet "because evolution is not bigger and better, but smaller and better (greater depth, less span) these theorists ... end up unknowingly recommending regression as our salvation."

Some theorists do not recommend regression unknowingly. Another of Wilber's bêtes noires are the various Romantic schools that have cropped up in the last decade or so. These include the men's movement, eco-feminism, various shamanistic "ways," the "archaic revival," and others. Each school adheres to some version of the "Great Crime," a rundown of which began this review. Each vies with the others in attempting to push back the clock to humanity's supposed pure and pristine participation with nature. Eco-feminists see it in the horticultural age: eco-masculinists, with hunters and gatherers.

The Great Crime of our separation from Mother Earth has led to alienation and oppression, these theorists claim, so, according to Wilber, they hop into their "Way Back Machines" or onto "The Regress Express," in order to return to Day One. Wilber appreciates the value of their sentiments, but says "it is one thing to remember and embrace and honor our roots; quite another to hack off our leaves and branches and celebrate that as a solution to leaf rot."

Seeing as much danger in Romantic regression as in rationalist reduction, Wilber doesn't hesitate to point out some of the questionable aspects of such grand men of alternative thought as C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell. In Jung's archetypes he finds not the numinous symbols today's Jungians do, but a collection of fairly typical, earthbound experiences. Wilber agrees that it is important to embrace these subliminal, prepersonal spheres, but denies that they have anything to do with higher, spiritual planes. (He makes a similar criticism of Stanislav Grof's "Basic Perinatal Matrices") Campbell's work in mythology, Wilber argues, suffers from a hermeneutical confusion. In rejuvenating myth as an alternative to modern rationality, Campbell fails to realize that his appreciation of ancient myths is very different from that of the people for whom myths were a matter of course. Campbell, Wilber tells us, had the benefit of reasoning about the myths, the very quality he is eager to deflate. Jung and Campbell are not the only recipients of Wilber's extensive critique; I mention them only to give an idea of the not-so-cozy corners one is led to in reading (his book.

Although unquestionably a tour de force, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality isn't without its weaknesses. Wilber 's style is breathlessly abstract , and the ubiquitous qualifications break up the narrative flow. And when he leaves his occasionally impenetrable academese, he often descends into chummy argot ("French kissing the Shadow") or ascends into lofty, though nebulous, rhetoric. Having agreed with and appreciated his razor-job on some of our more muddle-headed ideologies, I was less than convinced by his own conclusions.

Having shown up the flaws of Ascenders and Descenders alike, Wilber rolls out his own version of "how things are." Yet more often than not, this is announced in a voice of such singing, almost childlike yearning that, while I had no trouble detecting the emotion, I can't say I came away clear on the ideas. I believe they are there; Wilber is no mean thinker, but perhaps his very urgency blocks straightforward expression. (And having Hegel, Habermas, and Da Free John as spiritual mentors does not ensure a limpid style.) One also wonders about schematizing consciousness. In a closing note, Wilber remarks that when Jean Gebser said that Jesus and Meister Eckhart embodied the "integral structure" (Gebser's term for the newly emerging next phase of human evolution), he was "far short of the mark," and then goes on to state that " beyond" the integral are "the psychic, the subtle, the causal, and the ultimate." This may very well be true, but it did remind me of P. D. Ouspensky's reply to the lady who asked him if the Buddha was the "seventh level of consciousness." "I don't know," Ouspensky replied. "And I don't care."

Without criticizing legitimate hierarchies, the concrete reality of human experience is lost in these abstract pecking orders. Likewise, Wilber's Ascender/Descender motif, though a handy and wieldy tool, is so broad as to include everybody not partial to his take on things. And is everyone either an Ascender or Descender? I can think of at least half a dozen individuals who might find a spot in both camps.

Nevertheless, these quibbles aside, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality is an important book. It is bracing to see a writer associated with "fringe" fields of thought taking on the whole spectrum of late twentieth century culture. If this is Wilber's attempt at a crossover book, it's a good shot. After slapping the wrists of some of the most popular alternative thinkers, Wilber is sure to offend a great many readers, yet this kind of criticism is a tonic. Whether we agree with his assessment or not-and as this is the first of a projected mammoth trilogy we must keep an open mind-this book challenges us to rethink our beliefs in the company of the great books.
-GARY LACHMAN

Summer 1995


The River by Ma Jaya Sali Bhagavali; Ganga Press, Roseland, Fla., 1994; hardcover, xiii +85 pages.

It is tempting to call epic a poem that fills 85 pages and takes about 75 minutes to read a loud, especially one that addresses the panorama of life and death. But The River is intimate by nature, and is not intended to impress with the immensity of what it describes but to reveal in fleeting moments the ineffable stillness of the spirit.

The first seven lines announce what is to become the recurring motif:


Children play by my River
Sadhus stay by my River
Cities old by my River
Temples made of gold by my River
Cows stray all the day by my River
Young men and women now die
by my River
We are all the widows who cry
by my River


Those ideas recur no fewer than thirty-two times in whole or more often in part as a leitmotif, always recognizable but never quite the same. The poem flows rhapsodically, unfettered either by metrical regularity, strict rhyming scheme, or end-of-line punctuation. The seemingly naive sense of rhyme is one of several characteristics that give The River its flavor. The rhyme may shift suddenly to midline and signal a change of direction. Free association suggests the river's course and creates palpable, sensuous impressions of flowing, cresting, and subsiding. Whether mighty and sonorous or hushed and whispered, the expression is both unpretentious and mystical, calling to mind another poet of divine vision, William Blake.

The author's introduction declares her purpose "to bring to the many the beauty of my River, the Ganga-the sacredness of her abundance, the joy of her waters, and the fact that her holiness can and does heal ... sorrow in this time of the AIDS plague." As founder and spiritual head of the transdenominational Kashi Ashram in Roseland, Florida, Ma Jay Sari Bhagnavati directs her ministry of service for the most part toward society's marginalized, including many HIV-positive people and AIDS patients.

Much of the poem presents imagery of death that might appear horrific to the Western sensibility-corpses burning in the cremation ground, the smell of charred flesh mingling with the scents of jasmine and musk, ashes set afloat upon the river's breast, the black goddess Kali's fearsome dance. The pictorial realism evokes heat and sunlight, the mystery of night, the teeming life along the river's banks at play and at prayer, in joy, ill sorrow, and in release. The river becomes a metaphor for the totality of being, which enfolds life and death together. It presents the naked facts of temporal existence-of birth, growth, maturation, decay, and death, and all their attendant pleasure and pain-in the context of that larger reality, call it God or Brahman. The poem conveys the joy of embracing all of life's aspects and living passionately with fearlessness. The Ganges is also personified as the mother goddess, and finally it is revealed as transcendental reality itself.

Descriptive passages, dialogue, storytelling, allusions to myth, exhortation, and praise present the richness of Shaivite and Tantric Hinduism with an admixture of Zenlike immediacy. The poet speaks through various voices as an observer on the river's bank, a child, an ascetic, and soon, culminating in ecstatic identification with the divinity that the river represents.

Purists may object to four instances of split infinitives, to a pronoun in the wrong case, to two misuses of the word "lay" for "lie," and one occurrence of "piers" where "pyres" is meant. In addition there is a reference to Brahma, the god of creation, where Brahman, the formless reality, is meant. These, however, are minor details that can be corrected in a future printing. More troubling is the unexplained alternation of the Sanskrit "Ganga" (nominative) and "Gange" (vocative) throughout the poem without regard to grammatical sense. The allusions to Hindu myths do not always make themselves sufficiently clear and seem to assume the reader's previous knowledge of the stories. Also, a glossary would have been helpful to those who may not be familiar with the Sanskrit and other Indian terms employed.

Much care has been lavished on the book's design: it is clothbound in black and stamped with gold, with deep red endpapers and rich ivory stock. A Shiva trident symbol head s each page of text, and headbands and a bound-in red ribbon bookmark add to the impression of quality. The glossy 'black dust jacket bears a glowing, full-color reproduction of a painting by the author, who has won critical acclaim for the power of her naturalistic, primitive canvases. The River is a book to be cherished and read again and again.
-DAVID NELSON

Summer 1995


Homage to Pythagoras: Rediscovering Sacred Science edited by Christopher Bamford; Lindisfarne Press, Rochester, Vt.; paper.

The title, subtitle, and a summary of subjects addressed (form, number, geometry, architecture, light, color, music, poetry) effectively describe the contents. Sacred art and architecture put us in touch with the divine. Genuine sacred art can only be produced through sacred science. This was the science of the ancients, a science no less sophisticated and advanced than our own, but directed toward very different values.

Unless our emotional faculties have been utterly destroyed by modern education, it is impossible not to respond to sacred art. But knowing why we respond is a first step toward reacquiring that great, lost wisdom. Homage to Pythagoras is hardly bedtime reading, but anyone interested in understanding that "why" will find the effort expended amply repaid.
-JOHN ANTHONY WEST

Summer 1995


Krishnamurti-Love and Freedom: Approaching a Mystery by Peter Michel; Bluestar Communications, Woodside, CA. 1995; 205 pages.

This year is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Jiddu Krishnamurti (May 12, 1895; d. February 17, 1986). The appearance of Peter Michel' s book is therefore timely, doubtless one of many publications we can anticipate in this centennial year.

Michel's work is an excellent introduction to Krishnamurti's life, teachings, and Theosophical connections. Distinctive in several ways, it is likely to stand apart from the crowd of other commemorative studies and appreciations. Although adopting a "friendly" approach, the author looks at certain apparent contradictions and ironic contrasts in Krishnamurti's teachings, there cognition of which is part of the meaning of the " Mystery" in the book's subtitle.

Michel emphasizes the coherence of Krishnamurti's work, from At the Feet of the Master to the last works, such as the Journal (1982) and the Last Talks at Saanen 1985, and also the connection of Krishnamurti's thought with the Theosophical context in which he was fostered and against which he rebelled. For example, Michel points to the following passage from At the Feet of the Master,Krishnamurti's first and most Theosophical book:

There are in the world many untrue thoughts, many foolish superstitions, and no one who is enslaved by them can make progress. Therefore you must not hold a thought just because many other people hold it nor because it has been believed for centuries, nor because it is written in some book which men think sacred; you must think of the matter for yourself, and judge for yourself whether it is reasonable. Remember that though a thousand men agree upon a subject, if they know nothing about that subject their opinion is of no value. He who would walk upon the Path must learn to think for himself, for superstition is one of the greatest evils in the world, one of the fetters from which you must utterly free yourself. [61]

The rejection of authority in that passage and its emphasis on self- reliance and independence might as well have been written at the end of Krishnamurti's life as in his early years.

Krishnamurti's distinctive aversion to systems and organizations is one of the apparent contradictions in his life and teachings. After he dissolved the Order of the Star in the East in 1929, his rejection of systematic teachings and organizations promoting them became a major theme. His later creation of the Krishnamurti Foundation to perpetuate his own teachings is seen as something quite different. That organization is merely to assure that "the Teaching" remains available, and the organization is expressly forbidden to interpret it. To an outsider, however, such an organization may appear to be designed to preserve the orthodoxy of Krishnamurti's views and to inhibit their normal evolutionary development and adaptation to changing times and thus to foster a view of them as absolute, infallible or inerrant Truth.

In giving his talks, Krishnamurti often would say, "Let us look into this together," or the like. However, as Michel observes, real dialogue is conspicuously lacking; such apparent invitations were rhetorical introductions to a monologue. Krishnamurti also typically spoke on high levels of abstraction about "love," "fear," and so on. In that way, his discourse is strikingly different from that of the Great Teachers of the past like Christ and the Buddha.

Christ spoke in parables, little stories about ordinary, everyday people and events: about a traveler who was attacked by thieves, about servants who managed their boss’s property well or ill, about guests at a wedding feast, about a father's love for a wayward son, and so on. Similarly when poor Kisa Gotami asked the Budd ha to restore her dead child to life, he did not give her a talk about life and death and suffering and acceptance. He told her he would do what she asked if she could bring him mustard seed from a house where no one had ever died. The Great Teachers of the past have spoken in concrete, immediate terms on the level of the people. Krishnamurti spoke in the rhetoric of abstraction. As Emily Lutyens wrote to Krishnamurti:

You seem surprised that people do not understand you but I should be far more surprised if they did!! After all, you are upsetting everything in which they have ever believed –knocking out their foundations and putting in its place a nebulous abstraction. [127-28, quoted from Krishnamurti- His Life and Death. [85]

Krishnamurti could be clear and practical. That side of him is well shown in an observation reported by Susunaga Weeraperuma: "Always be skeptical of persons who claim to have clairvoyance. It is not that clairvoyance does not exist. It certainly exists. But doesn't it feed your vanity to believe that you have gifts lacking in others?" (162, quoted from Krishnamurti As I Knew Him, 153).

Krishnamurti could also inspire and motivate others to a loyalty to himself and a conviction of his spiritual status. There is abundant evidence of that, including Michel's own obvious high regard for Krishnamurti. But such inspiration seems to have come generally not from Krishnamurti's writings or talks-" the Teaching"-but rather chiefly from personal contact with him. It is another irony that, despite Krishnamurti's efforts to direct attention away from himself and toward "the Teaching," it was his personal charisma that affected the lives of others. People were drawn to him, but not transformed by "the Teaching."

Whether Krishnamurti is right or wrong about the possibility of radical transformation, neither he nor "the Teaching" gives much help in achieving it. He says that the first step is "to understand profoundly the significance of our existence" (54), but that is also the goal. Krishnamurti offers no way for achieving such understanding, and he dismisses traditional methods of approaching it. The fact that Krishnamurti says the ultimate goal is the first step is, in one sense, a profound truth. Blavatsky often talked that way too, but she also provided practical suggestions about what to do. Paradox without praxis makes a thin soup.

Although Krishnamurti himself tried to separate his person from "the Teaching,” ultimately they are inseparable. The content of Krishnamurti's teaching is not his; it is part of the timeless Wisdom Tradition. But the form in which it is set forth, its rhetoric and its focus, are distinctively Krishnamurti's. As Michel says, "Mystical experiences determined Krishnamurti's entire life and cannot be separated from his teachings. It is a radical and distorting contraction to reduce Krishnamurti's being to the factual message of his talks" (163). For that reason, anyone interested in Krishnamurti's teachings must sooner or later attend to his life.

Krishnamurti's life falls into discrete periods. Born in 1895 in southern India, like his namesake Krishna, he was an eighth child. Discovered by clairvoyant observation of his aura by C. W. Leadbeater in 1909, when he was fourteen, Krishnamurti was tagged as the "vehicle" of the World Teacher. That is, a great spiritual individual who had earlier manifested as the Christ and other spiritual teachers was supposed to "overshadow" Krishnamurti by using his body to communicate with humanity.

There was no thought among Theosophists of Krishnamurti himself being the World Teacher; he was merely to be the channel through which the World Teacher would speak. And that was the way things seemed to be developing for the next sixteen or so years. For example, in 1925 in a talk at Adyar to the Order of the Star in the East, which had been established to prepare for the manifestation of the World Teacher, Krishnamurti's voice seemed to change at one point and he began to speak in the first person as the World Teacher instead of in the third person about him. It appeared to some observers that the World Teacher had "taken over" for a brief period.

The year 1925 was however, a crucial one in Krishnamurti's life, marking the end of his first and explicitly Theosophical phase. Michel suggests that two events of that year were especially important for the change which was to come. First was the "nonsense of Huizen." A group of prominent Theosophists at a Theosophical retreat in the Dutch town of Huizen seem to have participated in a collective hysteria in which they imagined that various of their members were being rapidly initiated into advanced levels of spiritual accomplishment. The aging Annie Besant was present at the time but was perhaps already falling into a condition of incompetence that prevented her from putting a stop to the foolishness. C. W. Leadbeater, who was in Australia, did his best to undo the harm after the fact , but was hampered from direct action by his respect for Besant. Krishnamurti, despite his later view that instantaneous enlightenment is possible, did not regard the participants in that event as enlightened beings but found some of them manipulative. He was much upset at the proceedings, Michel believes, because certain matters he regarded as sacred were made to appear ridiculous.

The second crucial event of 1925 was the death of Krishnamurti's brother, Nitya, who had suffered for some while from tuberculosis. Krishnamurti understood from a dream that he had the promise of the Masters that Nitya would get well, but while on a sea journey to Adyar, he received news of his brother's death. The combination of his dislike of certain prominent Theosophists who behaved foolishly and his loss of confidence in the Masters to make all things right led to a crisis, a turning point in Krishnamurti's life.

Thereafter Krishnamurti moved out of a conventional Theosophical worldview and talked about a mystical and less structured sense of oneness with all life and the rejection of all authority and tradition. In 1929 he disbanded the Order of the Star in the East, which had been created for him but was imbued with traditional Theosophical attitudes and beliefs. Eventually Krishnamurti claimed that he him self had achieved oneness with the Ground of Being. As he wrote in a 1932 letter to Emily Lutyens: "I have revolutionized myself!! I can't tell you, mum, what a glorious thing it is to have realized the highest and the most sublime thing" (51, quoted from Krishnamurti-the Years of Fulfillment, 23). From that point on, Krishnamurti presented himself not as the vehicle or mouthpiece of the World Teacher, but as one who had independently achieved the Mystical Union and who could therefore speak of the Real in his own voice and by his own right.

Krishnamurti appears to have been not one, but several persons. There is the young Krishnamurti, nurtured and conditioned by his Theosophical mentors. There is the rebellious and publicly austere Krishnamurti, overthrowing his Theosophical traces and rejecting all authority, teaching ends without means. There is the esoteric Krishnamurti, healing the sick with his hands, describing nature spirits that frolic in the waves, and exorcising the dark powers that sometimes intruded into his life. There is the charismatic Krishnamurti who appeared to many to be just what he claimed: one who had realized his unity with the source of life and who was therefore free from limitations but boundlessly loving and considerate of others.

But there is also the manipulative, dishonest, self-centered Krishnamurti of Radha Rajagopal Sloss's Lives in the Shadows, a Krishnamurti who had a decades-long affair with the wife of his business manager, was involved with the abortions of her pregnancies by him, and eventually fell out with the other man in the ménage a trois. The last Krishnamurti is one that sympathetic biographers tend to ignore or dismiss, but he will not go away. No Krishnamurti biographer has yet adequately come to terms with Sloss's book.

The existence of so many Krishnamurtis raises the question of who the real Krishnamurti was. Per haps Theosophical psychology is as good a vantage point as any for viewing the mystery of "the often extreme bifurcation in Krishna's private behavior and his public message" (Sloss, 102). Each of us is a transcendent individuality that expresses itself in a series of reincarnated personalities.

The personality of Krishnamurti was molded by the conditions around it and behind it. It was as fluctuating and conditioned as any other personality and less morally responsible than many. Behind the personality, however, was an individuality (called Alcyone in early Theosophical literature), which C. W. Leadbeater recognized. It was the source of the charisma to which so many responded. The various Krishnamurtis are mixtures in varying proportions of aspects of the flawed personality and the inspiring individuality.

The value of Krishnamurti's life and teaching cannot yet be assessed with confidence, partly because his influence reaches into distant and sometimes unexpected corners of modern life. Radha Burnier, the inter national president of the Theosophical Society, has suggested one value Krishnamurti has had for the Society, which identified him, nurtured him, formed him, and from which he parted with bad grace. She writes:

HPB warned that most organizations like ours do not survive for more than one hundred years. Generally they become encrusted with dogma and degenerate into some kind of sectarianism. The members tend to rest upon the oars of their past achievements, giving little attention 10 discovery and action in the present. If the Theosophical Society has escaped such a fate, it is in large measure due to Krishnaji's questioning and criticism. This may not have pleased all members of the Theosophical Society, but nonetheless it helped to restore vitality to the pursuit of the fundamental aims of the society. [189, quoted from The American Theosophist, fall 1987, 345]

It is certainly true that Theosophists have had a love/dread relationship with Krishnamurti from the beginning and many still do, just as it is true that Krishnamurti's life and teachings were intimately bound up with the existence and teachings of the Theosophical Society. His presence and his words have been an energizing force for many Theosophists, and his influence on the organizational and intellectual history of the Society is a story not yet completed. Whether that influence could lead to a different sort of dogma and sectarianism is a possibility not to be discounted. There is a tendency to idealize Krishnamurti, to find in him a de facto World Teacher, and to repress his shadow side.

Krishnamurti is indeed a mystery, some aspects of which are likely to remain forever unapproached.
-JOHN ALGEO

Autumn 1995


Hymns to an Unknown God: Awakening the Spirit in Everyday Life. by Sam Keen; Bantam, New York, 1994; hardcover, 308 pages.

The ancient Athenians erected a sacrificial altar adorned with the cryptic inscription "To an Unknown God" lest they run the risk of offending the pride, thereby incurring the wrath, of some unnamed deity inadvertently omitted from their local pantheon. The author of the Act s of the Apostles informs us that when Saint Paul preached to the Athenians, he sought to use this device to his evangelical ad vantage: "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (Acts 17.23). Paul's aim, however, was not to add to that Pantheon, but to displace it altogether by identifying Jesus Christ as the One True God and as the proper name of the Ineffable Principle (Logos).

But as Joseph Campbell, Sam Keen's longtime friend, observed, from the pagan point of view Paul's more extensive attribution involved "an elementary mistake; for the Ineffable is not named or by anyone proclaimed, but is manifest in all things, and to claim knowledge of it uniquely is to have missed the point entirely." This confuses the merely unknown with the genuinely unknowable: that which is beyond all names and forms, yet is to be directly experienced through fully awakening to the deepest rhythms of the ordinary acts of daily life.

The "Unknown God" of Keen' s title, then, refers to that unnameable object of mystical experience which is nevertheless absolutely ubiquitous, manifest in and throughout the world. This is Eckhart's Godhead, the God beyond God, which is also present in Boehme's pewter cup; it is the eternal Tao that cannot be told, the nameless source of the mother of the Ten Thousand Things; it is the primordial Buddha-nature of enlightenment in which all things participate. "God is not an object to be known or a problem to be solved by human intelligence," Keen writes, "but is the ground beneath our capacity to understand anything, the totality within which we live, move, and have our being" (69 ).

Only by "getting rhythm and tuning in to the music of the spheres" (5) can we approach this Ground of Being, which is also our own ground, our very soul. Through song and poetry, art and myth, and especially through conscious participation in the rhythms of relationship-relationship to friends and enemies; to family members and lovers; to animals, plants, and soils; to our own soma and psyche -we experience the truth of the spirit. Keen's mysticism is thus light years away from the inward-turning, world-rejecting variety. "I have come to be suspicious," he writes. "of any religion or form of


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